Top officials at the World Health Organization will convene for an emergency meeting in Geneva Wednesday, to decide whether the quickly developing outbreak constitutes a "public health emergency of international concern," and what recommendations should be made regarding it, including potential cross-border screening, greater surveillance and rolling out treatment programs.
Chinese health authorities said Wednesday that at least 453 cases had been confirmed in the mainland, with three new deaths linked to the virus in Hubei, the central Chinese province of which Wuhan is the capital. Cases were also confirmed in the Chinese territory of Macao and the self-governing island of Taiwan.
Beyond China, officials in Washington state confirmed the first case on US soil Tuesday. Cases have also been reported in South Korea, Thailand and Japan, and suspected cases detected in Australia.
Worldwide a total of 461 cases have been confirmed since the outbreak was detected in mid-December.
Li Bin, China's national health commissioner, said Wednesday that officials are aware of around 2,200 cases of "close contact" with known virus carriers. Regarding suspected cases, 715 patients have been discharged while more than 300 patients remain on medical watch.
The disease is mainly transmitted "through the respiratory tract," said Li, adding that "there is possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease."
While there are indications that Chinese authorities are ready to ramp up controls on travel -- including ordering that all trips to Wuhan be canceled and refunded -- it remains to be seen whether the virus, already reported in around a dozen locations, can be reined in before the Lunar New Year travel period truly kicks in.
The largest annual human migration on Earth, hundreds of millions of people will travel across China and overseas during the four-week period, which began in mid-January and continues until February. Many will go by train or plane, raising the risk of infection as they are put in close contact with other travelers.